Report calls on government to back open access science

Test Tubes Currently the results of publicly funded research are restricted and have to be paid for

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A group of experts has urged funders of UK research to encourage scientists to publish their results in journals that offer free public access to findings.

A report by Dame Janet Finch argues that there is a powerful "moral" case for publicly funded research to be freely available.

Dame Janet also states that there could be considerable economic benefits if industry has free access to research.

Currently, most results have to be paid for by subscription.

But supporters of commercial publishing say that they have contributed greatly to the development of the peer review system and the resulting high standard of scientific research.

According to Dame Janet, "everyone agrees that greater open access would bring huge economic and public benefits. The challenge though is how we move to this model without damaging UK research, peer review or scientific publishers?"

Historically, scientists have sent their research results to scientific journals for consideration for publication.

Specialist editors working for the journals sift through the material submitted to them and select those they feel have made a significant contribution to the field.

Start Quote

The long term future lies with open access”

End Quote Dame Janet Finch Report Author

The editors then send these scientific papers to experts in the field for assessment, a process known as peer review. It is at this stage that one or more of the experts can reject the research because they believe it is flawed or that it has not made a significant contribution to the field.

It is more often the case though that the expert reviewers, known as referees, ask for clarification or more experiments to be carried out.

Once all or most of the referees are satisfied, the journal publishes the research and it is at this stage that the work is formally considered to be new science.

This process is in the main carried out by commercially-owned academic publishers who charge a subscription for access to the research. Two of the world's leading journals, Nature and Science, require subscriptions.

Test TUbes Critics allege that commercial publishers have made excessive profits from publicly funded research

Critics have argued that commercial publishers have made excessive profits from scientific research that has been paid for from public money. Critics also say that denying access to publicly-funded research is immoral.

This sort of criticism has seen the emergence of a new model of scientific publishing called open access. In this model, the author - or more likely their institution or funding body - pays for the administrative costs of peer review and the published research is made freely available to all.

The issue has become more acute in recent years with all research papers now potentially available online. Most commercial publishers have a "pay-wall" requiring a fee before allowing access to the research material.

Last year the Science Minister David Willetts set up an independent working group led by Dame Janet Finch of Manchester University to examine how to expand access to the peer-reviewed publications that arise from research undertaken both in the UK and in the rest of the world.

Bob Campbell, a senior publisher at Wiley-Blackwell, said that he saw a cointinued role for commercial publishers, but that there would be a move towards some form of open access in their models.

Measured way

The report's conclusion is that the government should encourage research funders, scientists and journal publishers to back the open access model playing an increasingly important role in scientific publishing.

Although open access journals currently account for just 10% of published research it is an area that Dame Finch wants to see expanding rapidly.

Start Quote

Open access is is in our marrow. Greater access is for the greater good”

End Quote Professor Adam Tickel Birmingham University

"The long term future lies with open access," she said at a news conference to launch her report.

"It will continue to grow fast. We need to embrace this change and do so in a measured way.

One of Dame Janet's recommendations is to require the funders of research to set aside £60 million each year to pay the administrative fees for publication in open access publications.

Mr Willetts said he would give a formal government response after he had a chance to properly consider the report.

But after an initial reading he said it seemed to have struck a "sensible balance in safeguarding the very important role of academic publishers while finding a way to manage the change to an environment that is more dominated by open access".

Many scientists are strong supporters of open access publishing. Among them is Prof Elizabeth Fisher, a world class neuroscientist at University College London.

"At my institution we are lucky enough to have access to many journals. But inevitably myself or one of my colleagues occasionally needs to see something that we haven't subscribed to and so we have to pay a fee to see research that has been publicly funded.

"So it would be tremendously useful for our research if we didn't have to think twice about this sort of thing".

Professor Adam Tickell, pro-vice-chancellor for research and knowledge transfer at the University of Birmingham said that universities were hugely supportive of the move toward the new model of scientific publishing.

"Open access is is in our marrow," he said, "greater access is for the greater good".

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  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    If industry wants to use the results of publically funded research for profit, they should have to cough up to a pot that gets distributed across universities and research institutions.

    Open access journals (the free to publish ones) are new and therefore not very respected in my field. But I hope this - and published reviewer comments - is the way forward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Research funding is squeezed as it is. It should be spent on carrying out studies, not on simply buying pages in journals later one.

    There are so many ways someone can get ahold of a published article that open access is really not the miraculous development the publishers make it sound like.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Researchers should not pay to have their studies published. It makes it biased and compromises quality. The problem is where do publishers get the money to do dilligence, a proper peer-review? Edit 1000's of articles and then give them away for free? You can still read articles in the Library for free, but having it delivered to your desktop is a service people must be willing to pay for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    So, we do the research, we do the typesetting and proof reading,and now we are expected to pay to publish as well? Rich research groups will be publishing far more frequently than those with small budgets - available money will define what is published rather than quality of science. Is there's a big demand or is this just another gimmick? Anyone can get a copy of a paper by asking the authors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Open access would fantastic in my view. It would allow me to keep up to date in my field which would have a range of benefits, first satisfying my personal interest, secondly making it easier for me to provide support to future research students (something I continue to do on occasion) and potentially helping me to identify opportunities for commercial research/development. Agree with Swiss33.


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